Translator: Ying-Jen Lin

Ms. T said, "Something dawned on me when I read a post by Hsiaoying (小英: President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文)'s nickname commonly used by Taiwanese) the other day.”

Ms. Q asked, "What was it?"

“That I didn’t realize Hong Kong used to be freer than Taiwan historically."

Q was confounded for a moment. “Well...yeah, you’re talking about the White Terror in Taiwan's history, aren’t you? You’re right. I never thought about that...”

"No matter how dark Hong Kong was, it still had freedom and food at least."

“Hsiaoying mentioned on her Facebook that when she was young, she would often use her stopovers in Hong Kong to check out books that she would not necessarily find in Taiwan," Miss T said. "During those times, in terms of the Chinese-speaking regions, Taiwan had yet to have complete freedom of the press and freedom of speech. And China had never enjoyed those freedoms, so Hong Kong was where Hsiaoying and many other people bought books."

T continued, "Then I recently saw that Ming Chu-cheng (明居正), a political science professor at the National Taiwan University, was discussing details of the extradition bill. He mentioned that when book censorship was in place during Taiwan’s martial law era, a lot of people had publish their work in Hong Kong instead. Also, they were able to see plenty of content in Hong Kong’s publications that would not have been found in Taiwan. That was Hong Kong in the 1980s."


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

Relatives of victims of "White Terror" hold lilies as they walk past a pond full of lilies during a memorial to mark the 22nd anniversary of the end of martial law, in Taipei July 15, 2009.

T took a sip of her coffee and said, “A few days ago, I read an article about Hong Kong’s history where the city also experienced a turbulent period in the 1940s. Though chaotic, Hong Kong was still much better compared to China then. That's why many Chinese refugees fled to Hong Kong during that period."

"People would rather risk their lives just to move to Hong Kong. Jimmy Lai (黎智英), the founder of Apple Daily, wrote in his autobiography that when he escaped from China to Hong Kong with nearly nothing on him, at least he got to have Char Siew Rice (barbecued pork with rice). No matter how dark Hong Kong was, it at least still had freedom and food.”

"Until the 1970s, the United Kingdom appointed Murray MacLehose as the Governor of Hong Kong. Under his governance, Hong Kong shifted from the turbulent times to an age of prosperity. Not until I read about this and then watched Professor Ming analyze the current state of Hong Kong did I realize one thing.”

Q asked, "What was it?"

"At least Hong Kong still enjoyed freedom during that time."


Photo Credit: Andy Wong / AP Photo / TPG Images

Q said, "I don't really understand what you mean."

“Hong Kong was still under British rule then. For the UK, Hong Kong was a colony, so they didn’t grant Hongkongers the right to elect their own representatives. Hong Kong never had its own autonomy from beginning to end," T responded. "Yet, because Hong Kong was ruled by the UK, a democratic country following the rule of law, the city was protected by the UK laws. Hong Kong at least had economic, speech, and mobility freedoms. So it was a place that had freedom without democracy.”

T took a bite of her cake after she finished speaking.

Q thought for a moment and said, "In other words, the preconditions for the guarantee of freedom are democracy and the principle of law. Although the UK didn’t give its colonies the democratic rights, Hong Kong still had to follow the British laws. This, thus, allowed human rights protection in Hong Kong under the British judiciary system.”

T nodded and said, "Yes. Only after I watched Professor Ming's explanation did I know that a decade ago, the CCP had had a debate about ‘which is bigger, the party or the law?’

In Western democratic political philosophy, one of the fundamental ideas is ‘the government would harm and bully its people.' We surely hope the government would help its people. Yet, when the government commands enormous power, it is likely to cause harm instead. Given that, the concept of democracy and the governance of law suggests that government should follow the law. This is the core that underlies human rights protection.

For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), however, the party is bigger than the law. That’s why the CCP is above the law.”

Q agreed and said, “That is to say, for the CCP, the law is not for the purpose of restricting the government. But the government can unilaterally use the law against its people."


Photo Credit: Newscom / TPG Images

"Right, that’s why Hongkongers have reacted so drastically to the extradition bill this time," T said. "What I wanted to point out was Hong Kong has always been in the situation of ‘one country, two systems’ The only difference is that the 'one country' was the UK before. Now, it’s China.”

Q asked, “Were you going to say whether Hong Kong can have freedom today depends not on ‘two systems’ but on what the ‘one country’ is?"

T nodded. “Exactly. If the Chinese government was a democratic entity that follows the rule of law today, though without democracy, Hong Kong would not be losing its freedom as long as it was being protected by the rule of law.

"Nevertheless, the CCP is the ruling party in China. Your ‘freedom’ depends constantly on their ‘rule of man’ standard. You would have freedom when they feel like giving it to you.

"While people in Taiwan are discussing whether ‘one country, two systems’ is viable and how it wouldn’t be widely accepted, perhaps instead we should think about that the key isn’t in the ‘two systems’ but in what country the ‘one country’ is.”

The original article was written in Chinese by Democracy de Cafe and published on The News Lens Taiwan Edition. If you've enjoyed this article and want to receive more story updates, please be sure to like our Facebook page below.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)